Why Aren’t There More Women Voicing Trailers?

Posted on January 31, 2012

Because there aren’t. There you go! Question answered. Everybody can go about their lives again.

I was hoping the recent NYTimes article “Why Men Always Tell You To See Movies” would have some new information. But really, the answer to that question is that there’s no good answer. Which is nice to hear in itself I guess; I’d hate for there to be an actual reason, it means I’ll never get any work!

There are plenty of not-really-a-good-reason “explanations”:

One challenge women face is the perception in the industry that it’s difficult for their voices to be heard over a trailer’s cacophony, an attitude some voice-over artists dispute.

It isn’t that women “can’t be heard,” it’s that women’s voices should be mixed differently than men’s. The resonant frequencies of a female voice tend to be higher, so you need to make space in the high-middles of a piece of bed music to allow the voice room to “sit” within it. Otherwise you’re left with the crutch of yanking the background way down, which I hear pretty often in garage-demo mixes of female-fronted bands. People just aren’t used to doing it. But you know who’s pretty much got the whole mixing-a-female-voice thing figured out? Radio people. You’ll hear a female counterpart to the Big Voice Guy on lots of rock stations–there’s your cacophony right there!–and anyone who does imaging for a major market station is probably used to using female voices. It can be done, and it’s being done well every day.

There’s even some questionable science in the Times article:

In one study conducted at Stanford two versions of the same video of a woman were presented to subjects: one had the low frequencies of the woman’s voice increased and the high frequencies reduced, the other vice versa. Consistently subjects perceived the deep voice to be smarter, more authoritative and more trustworthy.

Ah, the trustworthiness debate. The study above does show that deeper voices are perceived as more trustworthy, but both voices were still female. And they were videos, so obviously the subjects weren’t mistaking the lower voice for a man’s. No where does the article say whether the examples were ever tested against a male voice.

The article does bring up one great point: the psychological impact of the standard set by Don LaFontaine. When you make art for mass consumption, there’s a lot of collateral to be gained by sounding like The Real Deal. You want to sound professional, you want to sound polished, you want to hit every subtle detail that makes you sound like the best out there. People can tell when something’s every-so-slightly off, and you want to make it look like you belong with the big guys, so you adhere to The Archetype. It’s a good strategy. And when you’re gambling with millions of dollars and are trying to predict the future, you bet on the horse who’s won all the races.

I’ll admit I probably proliferate this stereotype myself. When the voice casting sheets list “male or female” I don’t even bother, because I figure they’ll just end up going with the guy.

But there’s something to be said for being different. A while ago I was handed a script for a new client, a car dealer, and told they wanted “something really, really great that will make them stand out.” I usually use guys for car spots (don’t we all?) and I racked my brain for a few days trying to come up with Something Big for them. Finally, out of frustration and inches from a deadline, I just read it myself in The Sexy Voice to buy myself some time. No bells and whistles and zaps wooshes, no clever jokes, just voice over music. And they were over the moon because it was unlike anything they’d ever been presented with before.

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